February 28, 2014

OSCARLAND: Why and Why Not? – Best Actress


As with Best Supporting Actor and Best Supporting Actress, we’re taking a last look at the factors for and against each nominee for Best Actress, with deserving performances assumed and precursor awards put to the side.  Also read about the Best Actor, Best Director and Best Picture races.


AMY ADAMS, American Hustle

WHY:  With 5 nominations in less than a decade, she’s due.  The movie was nominated in every acting category, and someone has to walk away with a statue.  Yet another transformative performance from an actress more chameleon-like than anyone realized.  A trouper on the campaign circuit, and universally well-liked.  Loyal to her director, who previously guided her to a nomination for The Fighter.

WHY NOT:  Part of an ensemble, rather than a commanding lead performance.  Young enough so that she still has plenty of chances to win.  Isn’t Jennifer Lawrence.  A somewhat comic role in a very serious category (Lawrence’s win last year notwithstanding).  Doesn’t have the sheer career breadth of the other nominees.


WHY:  Even before this role, one of the most respected and admired actresses in film.  Has won, but in the Supporting category.  A performance that’s superficially showy yet also nakedly emotional, two things the Academy loves.  Handled the recent Woody Allen situation with grace and poise–and many feel it actually helped turn her from an overwhelming favorite into a bit of an underdog, because she was dragged into a situation that had nothing to do with her directly, which ended up making her even more of an overwhelming favorite.  Did just enough on the campaign trail.

WHY NOT:  Her uninterrupted run of victories irritates some, bores others.  There are those who simply won’t vote for any award that brings even reflected glory on this film’s director.   The performance has been criticized as being more a collection of mannerisms than a genuine display of heart.


WHY:  A dream position:  the virtually uninterrupted center of the year’s most successful (by far) Best Picture nominee.  In a role similar to Robert Redford’s in All Is Lost, had all the likability and charisma his stoic take lacked.  As beloved a figure as there is in Hollywood.  At an age when other actresses are thinking about moving to cable TV, just hitting her prime.  Has successfully transformed the perception of herself from rom-com girl into serious actress.

WHY NOT:  The movie’s script was lackluster (it didn’t even get nominated), and the performance had to rely too much on that go-to likability.  Won very recently.  People who star in blockbuster hits and collect massive paychecks from their share of the back-end don’t also need to win awards.

JUDI DENCH, Philomena

WHY:  As with Blanchett, a revered performer who’s only won in the Supporting category.  The movie is one many voters would love to recognize with an award.  Combined grit and humor in a very Academy-friendly way.  Probably reaching the slowdown part of her career, unfortunately showcased through recent bouts of illness.  Has the Harvey Weinstein Oscar machine behind her.

WHY NOT:  Because of illness, and then other jobs, hardly campaigned at all.  Those who don’t adore the movie have limited regard for it.  Not the kind of technically impressive performance that typically wins awards.  Unlike with Blanchett, Supporting seems like the category where most of her roles belong.

MERYL STREEP, August: Osage County

WHY:  She’s Meryl Streep.  A supremely unglamorous performance, eons away from her Margaret Thatcher and Julia Child.  Dominated a superb ensemble.

WHY NOT:  Her mantle is crowded enough already.  Her third Oscar was just a couple of years ago, for a role more technically demanding than this one.  The movie was comparatively weak.  Did a bare minimum of campaigning.  This isn’t the Weinstein Company performance Harvey & Co are plugging.  She could win again, but for a more blow-everyone’s-socks-off role than this one.


CATE BLANCHETT.  Some things are just inevitable.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."